Columbus City Council holds first session of new year

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COLUMBUS, Ga. — It’s been a long, productive Tuesday for Columbus City Council in the first full session of 2018.

Ralston Towers Update

First on the day’s agenda, a presentation on the Ralston Towers apartment complex that once again falls short of city safety codes. The local owners representative for the property will now face a judge after the Building Inspections and Code Enforcement Department issued two dozen citations for units without proper heating.

“We’ve actually issued a citation to the owner’s representative for the 24 houses, or 24 units, that do not meet the compliance,” says Building Inspections and Code Enforcement Department Director John Hudgison. “They will be in court next week and then they will kind of have to present to the court what they’ve done and we’ll go from there based off what the judge’s court order will be.”

Hudgison spoke before city council to go over a laundry list of issues at the Ralston dating back to June 2016. The property has been cited for everything from an outdated and inoperable fire alert system to a lack of air conditioning in several units that the coroner’s office cited as a contributing factor in the death of a resident in July 2017.

The presentation shows the most recent issues at the apartments include no hot water for the majority of the building and units that were unable to maintain a safe winter temperature over 68 degrees.

Hudgison says for the city to have grounds to shut the building down, there needs to be a non-compliance issue that effects more than three-fourths of the apartment’s total 188 residents. Most issues that fulfill that requirement — such as the fire alert system and hot water — have been resolved. However, Hudgison says the apartment is on a constant balancing act that never quite tips towards grounds for a shut down.

“We talk to them and say, ‘Hey we need an update on this, we need an update,’ and when it gets to the point of where there’s not much I have left to do but the opportunity to shut them down, I hate to keep going,”  Hudgison explains. “You know, I hate to keep crying wolf as if we’re not going to shut them down, but they do eventually come into compliance. But like I said, at the expense of what? You know, how many people have left because they cannot live there any more due to the conditions?”

The Ralston Towers representatives will appear in Recorder’s Court for the January 17 session at 9 a.m.

MCSO Body Cameras

Columbus City Council members also approved a purchase order for the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office to equip its deputies with new body cameras.

Sheriff Donna Tompkins tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton several deputies have cameras that were donated by the Marshall’s Office; however, Tuesday’s positive vote means the first opportunity for MCSO to purchase its own, all new equipment.

The approved purchase order now grants the office enough money for about 25 new body cameras and their additional needs like docking stations and storage, Tompkins says. She adds the new cameras will be distributed to deputies who spend the most time on patrol, interacting with citizens and inmates.

“These days, that’s very important to document what your interactions with the public were, especially in cases of arrest for evidence and things like that,” Tompkins says. “Most of the time we that find it’s helpful for the officer, because it helps to prove what they did or didn’t do. So it’s what all good agencies probably should be working towards, and so that’s our first step at working towards it.”

She says once the contract for the purchase can be sent in, the new equipment should be in hand and ready to hit Columbus streets within the next six weeks.

METRA Service

Several METRA bus lines may be either suspended or cut hours due to a lack of riders. Columbus City Councilors heard a TSPLOST presentation on the latest findings for METRA service use and funding.

The current lines up for suspension include Route 8, which services Uptown and the Civic Commons areas, and Route 11, which serves areas along Warm Springs Road and Weems Road. The presentation asserts there is simply not a high enough ridership in these areas to sustain full bus service. The council also heard suggestions to reduce late-night hours for certain lines that don’t usually have riders past a certain time.

At this time, there will be no immediate change to the bus services that are up for debate. City councilors will continue to review the information presented and later decide which lines to end or reduce, and how to properly notify residents of changes.

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